History Revisited: Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton a jewel of the region
Although games similar to the sport of golf can be traced back to the 12th century, it is generally accepted that the modern version of the game was developed in Scotland in the 1700s and became a popular sport in the United States in the mid to late 1800s.
One of Groton’s oldest and most famous landmarks, both past and present, is the Shennecossett Golf Course. Although there is no specific information as to the exact date of when or why the course was built, information does exist to provide possible plausible answers to these questions.
In the early 1830s, Albert S. Avery was the primary owner of most of the land in the Eastern Point area of Groton. His primary use for the land was farming; however, in the early 1840s he conceived the idea of transforming much of the land into a summer resort.
At the time, there were only two houses in the area, his and another owned by Captain S. W. Fisk, which was used as a small hotel called the Ocean House. In 1842, Avery sold some land to Fisk on which he built another larger hotel, ultimately named the Edgcomb House. This was the beginning of what became known as the Eastern Point summer colony.
In the early 1870s, a road was laid out along the Groton side of the Thames River and numerous summer cottages and houses were built at Eastern Point close by the two Fisk hotels.
In 1883, Thomas W. Avery purchased a large tract of land from his father, Albert S. Avery, in the Eastern Point colony. The property he purchased, which was to be used as a farm, encompassed the area where Plant Street, Tyler Avenue, Eastern Point Road and Shore Avenue are located today. Avery’s farmhouse, barn and other farming facilities were located just south of Plant Street, in the area where the 12th, 13th and 14th holes of the present golf course are situated today. The farmhouse was in fairly close proximity to the two hotels owned by Captain Fisk.
In the late 1890s, when golf was becoming a popular sport amongst the wealthy seasonal visitors and guests at the Fisk hotels, Avery constructed a four-hole golf course in the area of his farmhouse.
It is at this point where one might discover the answer as to why the golf course was built — was it part of Avery’s endeavors to further his interest in developing the summer resort at Eastern Point, or was it his belief that the course could be a great economic opportunity if used by the guests of the hotels? I will leave the answer to the question up to the reader to decide.
It should also be pointed out that in 1885, a large addition was added to the Edgcomb House, almost doubling the size of the hotel to accommodate 175 rooms. The hotel was subsequently renamed the Fort Griswold House.
In 1899, multi-millionaire Morton F. Plant, who made his fortune in railroads and hotels in the south, came to Groton and had a three-story, nine-bedroom shingle sided wooden house built on Shore Avenue, near the Fort Griswold House.
He lived in this house while his 19,900 square foot granite, four-story, 31-room summer mansion was being built at Avery Point.
In 1904, Plant continued his hotel ventures by purchasing the then run-down Fort Griswold House. In September 1905, at the close of the summer season, he had the hotel demolished and began building a new and larger hotel on the same site. In May 1906, just six months after razing the Fort Griswold House, Plant’s new 440-room hotel, named the Griswold Hotel, opened for business.
Shortly after having the Griswold Hotel built, Plant, who had built two 18-hole golf courses at his Belleview Hotel in Florida, saw the need to develop the Avery golf course even further. He began purchasing property in and around the Avery links to accommodate additional holes. In 1906-1907 the course was increased to nine holes and to 11 holes in 1911. Between 1911 and 1914, the course was expanded into an 18-hole course.
Plant also built the present Spanish-style stucco/masonry clubhouse in 1914 to replace an older wooden house at the same location.
The golf course was ultimately named the Shennecossett Country Club. It could not be documented as to why this Indian name, referring to “a neck of land along the river,” was chosen; however, it was learned that Plant had originally selected the name for his new hotel but was persuaded by others not to do so because the name “Griswold” was already widely recognized.
In 1926, Donald J. Ross, the internationally renowned designer of golf courses, who had redesigned Plant’s golf courses in Florida, was contracted to redesign the Shennecossett Golf links.
As the years went by, the Griswold Hotel began to flounder financially. In 1968, the hotel property was sold to the Chas. Pfizer Company, and the Shennecossett Golf Course was purchased by the Town of Groton.
In 1997, the Town of Groton and Pfizer signed an agreement to a “land swap” involving the golf course. Pfizer needed a portion of the golf course in the area of Shennecossett Road near the Branford Housing Project for its newer facilities. In turn, Pfizer would deed the property on which the Griswold Hotel had once been located.
Pfizer also agreed to build three new holes (the 15th, 16th and 17th) on the west side of Eastern Point Road, overlooking Long Island Sound and the Thames River to replace those on the property previously belonging to the town. These three holes have contributed immeasurably to the attractiveness of the course.
Groton’s Shennecossett Golf Course, one of few locally open year-round, is excellently maintained and over the past several years has been recognized as one of the best golfing facilities in New England. Every year, this golf course and the club’s Par 4 restaurant attracts thousands of visitors to Groton.
It certainly is worthy of being called one of Groton’s well-known landmarks.
Jim Streeter is the Groton town historian.